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Q:Considering the biblical injunction to submit to civil government (Rom. 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14), were Christian colonists justified in participating in the Revolutionary War?

A:Only one population in the colonies clearly was justified by classical Christian reasoning in taking up arms to defend itself—the half-million or so enslaved African Americans who were held in bondage as the result of armed attacks upon peaceful noncombatants.

When it comes to the British actions toward the colonies in the decade before 1776, almost all historians concede those actions were insensitive, based on lamentable misconceptions of colonial life, and often simply stupid. George III, a responsible family man who tried to act like a Christian, was far from the ogre pictured in the Declaration of Independence. But he had no real feel for life in the colonies, and he, when choosing advisers, allowed political loyalty to take precedence over sound assessments of ability. So colonial leaders complaining about mistreatment from Britain were not making things up.

But were the admitted abuses serious enough to warrant an armed revolution? Patriot leaders thought so, but there is a problem with why they thought so. They were troubled less by actual evils (like the tax on tea, which, ironically, had made tea cheaper in the colonies than in England). Rather, they interpreted the bumbling British actions as a conspiracy to exterminate liberty in the colonies.

This belief explains why, as political tensions increased, patriot leaders accused the British of behaving like Roman Catholics. Decades of warfare pitting Catholic France against Protestant Britain had taught all the British, even the colonists, simply to equate tyranny with the pope and freedom ...

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In the Magazine

February 8, 1999

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